Call it a timely coincidence: This year’s Boston Pride Guide is called “The Orange Issue.”
This is not a snarky dig at the 45th president of the United States. Orange represents the third stripe on the late Gilbert Baker’s original eight-stripe rainbow flag, the universal symbol of the LGBTQ community. After hot pink in 2015 and red last year, it was orange’s turn to adorn the spine of the guide’s third volume.
It is also a serendipitous reminder that this year’s 47th annual Boston Pride Week, highlighted by Saturday’s parade, arrives at an uncertain time for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people. After years of progress, paradegoers this Saturday should be flush with anger against an administration that author and activist Michelangelo Signorile called “a who’s who of LGBT opponents.” Even when President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia on his first overseas trip last month, he spent more time curtsying than criticizing that nation’s ultra-conservative leadership for its stance against homosexuality, which is punishable by death.
This is the first Pride Month of the Trump presidency. It’s also the first since the departure of a president who endorsed same-sex marriage; designated the area around the Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, as a national historic site; and in his second inaugural speech placed Stonewall alongside Selma and Seneca Falls as revered sites where battles for equality were waged. Bans against LGBTQ members of the military were lifted allowing them to serve their country openly and honestly.
Now we’re faced with Trump and his homophobic Cabinet. Vice President Mike Pence favors “religious freedom” laws that promote discrimination. As an Alabama senator, Attorney General Jeff Sessions received a zero rating on LGBTQ issues from the Human Rights Campaign. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last month refused to say whether she would withhold federal money from private schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students. And Trump’s 2018 budget is proposing deep cuts to HIV and AIDS prevention.
For years, the second Saturday in June was a high holy day for LBGTQ Boston, myself included. It wasn’t just that Pride made the streets of the march safe for public displays of affection, if only for a few days. As AIDS ravaged the community, marches were boldly political, buoyed by the tension of people literally fighting for their lives. That blossomed into calls for same-sex couples to be treated as family members for hospital visits, and in making medical decisions for their partners. We were demonized, our existence used as a wedge issue to fire up conservatives at the polls, and we’d had enough. In those days, Pride was more than a march — it was a manifesto.
With 21st-century progress came complacency. Of course, activists were always hard at work, but Pride began to feel as docile as a picnic. In 2004, Massachusetts led the way in recognizing same-sex marriage. But winning that battle didn’t mean the war was over, although it felt that way at Pride. Some years there were more corporations and politicians getting face time than there were gaudy floats. Protests that popped up along the route seemed as out of place as a mirror ball in a church. It was as if we’d gained our rights, but lost our spine.
During the campaign, Trump claimed he’d be better for the community than Hillary Clinton; after the election his surrogates said he would be “the most pro-LGBT president ever.” As of late last week, he had yet to even officially recognize LGBTQ Pride Month.
But let’s not dwell on that omission. The larger problem is an administration less concerned with advancing LGBTQ rights than threatening them. And no, First Daughter Ivanka Trump, who claims to be a persuasive voice on social matters in her father’s administration, is not our ally or savior. States are still pushing so-called “bathroom bills” that endanger the lives of transgender people, while gay men are being detained, tortured, and murdered in Chechnya.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is doing nothing.
Thirty years ago, ACT UP coined the phrase “Silence = Death” as a wake-up call in the fight against AIDS. This moment is just as perilous, and it’s not enough for the LGBTQ community to be seen Saturday — it must also be heard. In a politically hostile time, this year’s Pride needs to be out, proud, and defiantly loud against the “orange issue” in the White House.